The recent death of a short-finned pilot whale in Songkhla, southern Thailand, triggered a bout of long-overdue national anguish. The creature, discovered in June, was filled to its blowhole with 85 plastic bags that it had mistaken for food. Endangered finless porpoises, Irrawaddy dolphins, and turtles have also been recent casualties of plastic ingestion in Thai waters.
A video of British diver Rich Horner swimming through dense shoals of plastic waste off the Indonesian resort island of Bali went viral in March. Appalled viewers watched as Horner, along with a lone manta ray and the occasional fish, become enveloped in cascades of plastic bags and wrappers.
And near Mumbai, a dead whale recently washed ashore from the Arabian Sea, killed by ingested plastic like its cousin in Thailand. The city's famous Marine Drive is blighted by tons of washed-up waste after high tide; in the absence of an effective municipal response, locals often take it upon themselves to clean up.
Such ominous incidents are finally triggering awareness of the environmental catastrophe caused by plastic waste. The U.K., Chile and China are among countries moving against the profligate use of plastic bags, while companies like Starbucks face mounting pressure to ban plastic straws.
Nowhere is the need for action greater than in Asia, the source of over 80% of the plastic that ends up in the world's oceans. But in most of the region, efforts to tackle the pollution are inadequate or nonexistent.
Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim, who was appointed executive director of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity in April, acknowledged that her group was spurred into action this year only after the scale of the region's problem was highlighted by Ocean Conservancy in Washington.
"Our efforts to protect marine biodiversity started to become more proactive this year after some [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] member states were identified as top marine pollutants," she told the Nikkei Asian Review.